The essence of our practice is transforming suffering into happiness, and letting the flower of insight blossom, says Vietnamese Zen monk, THICH NHAT HAHN
There are five practices to nourish happiness daily: letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight. These practices will help us come home to ourselves and make peace with all our sufferings.
1 Letting Go: The first practice of creating joy and happiness is to cast off and let go. Many of us are bound to many things — or more precisely, our beliefs about their utter necessity — which are really obstacles for our joy and happiness. Sometimes you think a career, diploma, salary, house or partner is crucial for your happiness and you can’t live without it. Even when you have achieved this, you continue to suffer.
If you live in a big metropolis, there is noise, dust, and pollution but also opportunities and excitement. A friend coaxes you to get away for a couple of days and you may say, ‘I can’t. I have too much work. I might miss an important call.’ But finally, convinced, you leave and you’re in the countryside.
You see open space, the sky, and you feel the breeze on your cheeks and you’re happy. If you had stayed in the city, how could you experience that kind of joy? You needed to let go.
2 Inviting positive seeds: We have many kinds of ‘seeds’ deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly.
In our consciousness there is hell and paradise. We can be compassionate, understanding, and joyful. But, if we pay attention only to the negative things in us, especially the suffering of past hurts, we are not getting any positive nourishment. By touching the positive things that are available inside and around us, we can water the wholesome qualities in us.
Practising mindfulness of compassion every day means the seed of compassion will become strong. Concentrate on it and it will come up as a powerful zone of energy. When compassion comes up, arrogance goes down. We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds.
3 Mindfulness-based joy: Mindfulness helps us to get in touch with suffering so we can embrace and transform it, but also touch the wonders of life, including our own body. Then breathing in and out becomes a delight. A few years ago, I had a virus in my lungs that made them bleed. I was spitting up blood. It was difficult to breathe. After treatment, my lungs healed, and my breathing became much better. Now when I breathe, I remember the time when my lungs were infected with the virus. Then every breath I take becomes really delicious, really good.
Mindfulness is an energy you can generate all day long through your practice. You can wash dishes, cook dinner, and mop the floor in mindfulness. You are a real artist and you know how to create joy and happiness any time you want — born from mindfulness.
4 Concentration: Concentration is born from mindfulness and has the power to break through, to burn away the afflictions that make you suffer and to allow joy and happiness to come in. To stay in the present moment takes concentration. Worries and anxiety about the future are always there, ready to take us away. We can see them, acknowledge them, and use our concentration to return to the present moment.
If you focus on your breathing in a relaxed way, you are already cultivating inner strength. When you come back to feel your breath, concentrate on your breathing with all your heart and mind. Concentration is not hard labour. You don’t have to strain yourself or make a huge effort. Happiness arises lightly and easily.
5 Insight: With mindfulness, we recognise tension in our body, want to release it, but can’t. We need insight, which is seeing what is there. It is the clarity that can liberate us from jealousy or anger and allows true happiness. We may know that a craving or a grudge is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings anxiety and fear. We know we shouldn’t lose sleep over it. Yet, we spend time and energy obsessing about it.
The essence of our practice requires that we come home to ourselves, we make peace with our suffering, treating it tenderly, and looking deeply at the roots of our pain. It requires that we let go of useless, unnecessary sufferings and take a closer look at our idea of happiness.
We can nourish happiness daily, with acknowledgment, understanding, and compassion for ourselves and for those around us. This is the art of suffering and the art of happiness. With each breath, we ease suffering and generate joy. With each step, the flower of insight blooms.
(Ahimsa Trust represents Thich Nhat Hanh in India. It offers online talks, retreats, and Mindfulness meditation sessions. Visit www.ahimsatrust.org) ■